U.S. and Japan Duel over Lethal Whale Research

NEW YORK, New York, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta has given unofficial notice to Japan that he is considering economic sanctions against Japan to exert pressure for a halt to Japan's lethal whale research program.

Beginning with the killing of about 300 minke whales in 1987, one year after the International Whaling Commission imposed a ban on commercial whale hunting, the Japanese research program now claims 440 minke whales annually in the Antarctic. In 1994, Japan expanded its lethal research to the North Pacific with the additional killing of 100 minke whales.

This year, Japan announced plans to kill an additional 10 sperm and 50 Bryde's whales.

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Norman Mineta (Photo courtesy Office of the Secretary)
In an opinion article in the "Washington Post" on August 27, Secretary Mineta wrote, "The Clinton-Gore Administration and other governments forcefully oppose Japan's latest proposal to take sperm and Bryde's whales. Because Japan has chosen to ignore these diplomatic pleas, we are considering options including trade measures under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act of 1967. Shortly, I will have to decide whether to request the President to consider imposing trade measures against Japan."

Mineta expressed concern that the steady expansion of Japanese whaling "threatens the worldwide ban on commercial whaling."

"We are concerned," he wrote, "that the expansion of the Japanese hunt to larger whales is aimed at paving the way for an outright resumption of commercial whaling."

The Japan Whaling Association responded today with a declaration that its research whale hunt is legal under the international treaty that governs whaling administered by the International Whaling Commission. "Not only is Japan's whale research perfectly legal under the convention, it also does not threaten any species or stocks of whales. Nor does it portend any return to 'wide open hunting,' the association said.

The U.S. has no right to impose sanctions on other countries for violating U.S. laws, the whalers said. "No sanctions are warranted either on the grounds that the take of sperm and Bryde's whales are prohibited under U.S. law. U.S. law covers only U.S. nationals and U.S. waters; it does not apply to any whaling activities in other countries or on the high seas."

The United States would suffer economically if it imposes sanctions against Japan, the whaling industry group pointed out. "The Commerce Secretary and his staff apparently never calculated the cost to Americans of placing trade sanctions on Japan. If imports of Japanese fish products are banned, tens of thousands of Americans engaged in importing and marketing fishery products will lose jobs and income which now bring them more than $1.2 billion annually."

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Japanese whaler takes a minke whale in the Southern Ocean (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
After the 1986 ban placed on commercial whaling, "Japan began a lethal research program in the Antarctic, under an exemption to the convention," Mineta wrote.

But the Japan Whaling Association views its research as perfectly legal. "Secretary Mineta was wrong to call the research whaling 'an exemption to the convention.' Research whaling is a right conferred on all parties to the convention by the convention itself," the association said today.

According to the International Whaling Commission, the right of governments to issue these research permits "is enshrined in Article VIII of the Convention that furthermore requires that the animals be utilized once the scientific data have been collected."

Prior to 1982, over 100 permits had been issued by governments including Canada, the USA, the USSR, South Africa and Japan. Since the moratorium on commercial whaling, three countries - Japan, Norway and Iceland - have issued scientific permits as part of their research programs.

The whaling industry group maintains that the meat from the whales caught in the research program must be utilized and goes to pay the costs of the research.

"As Japan's research is authorized, it is not in violation of any international treaty. Therefore no U.S. sanctions are warranted. In trying to curtail Japan's legal rights and preventing the sustainable use of whales, the U.S. itself is in violation of its obligations under the convention," the whaling association said.

But Mineta says it is not necessary to kill the whales to obtain scientific facts about them. "The Japanese argument that all of these whales must be killed in order to collect certain scientific data is preposterous," Mineta wrote. "In fact, members of the IWC scientific committee have repeatedly criticized the basis of the Japanese hunt. The United States and other delegations have even offered Japan scientific assistance in conducting a non-lethal research program to collect the kind of data they seek."

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Japanese meal featuring whale meat (Photo courtesy High North Alliance)
The Japan Whaling Association replies that "although the 40-member IWC's anti-whaling majority every year passes a non-binding resolution condemning Japan's research, the IWC Scientific Committee has found it sound and valuable. The Scientific Committee also has concluded that most of the data obtained by the research cannot be obtained by non-lethal means."

Japanese whalers says that scientists cannot determine the amounts of each species of fish eaten by whales without examining their stomach contents nor determine age and the condition of a whale's internal organs without killing them.

The whalers argue that sperm and Bryde's whales are "abundant" and blames American anti-whaling groups for the U.S. position against Japanese whaling.

"The IWC Scientific Committee assessed the northwest Pacific stocks of Bryde's whales last year and determined that they number at least 23,000 and are above levels that will support sustainable use. How can a take of 50 Bryde's whales out of a stock of 23,000, or a take of 10 sperm whales from a regional stock of over 100,000 animals, pose a threat?" the whalers said.

But Secretary Mineta reminded Japan that whale watching boats have replaced whale hunting boats in much of the world. "It's time for Japan to allow these magnificent creatures to recover after decades of killing." he said.

Before replacing William Daley as Secretary of Commerce in July, Norman Mineta, an American of Japanese ancestry, was senior vice president and managing director of Lockheed Martin IMS and chairman of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies. From 1974 to 1995, Mineta was a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing California's 15th congressional District.